Karate: what it is,history,philosophy,how to practice and fight

Karate is a martial art, it can be seen as a sporting activity or much more. In fact, if you are interested in the philosophy and values ​​that are part of karate, you can apply them in your daily life. The moral values ​​promoted by the teachers of Karate (Sensei), make you understand the respect for opponents, on the tatami and in life, to remain worthy in both victory and defeat. Similarly, thanks to the color belt code , karateka becomes aware of the established hierarchy and its progress.

The karate is a martial art with his bare hands which thanks to a rational training to educate the body and mind to respond to any type of aggression. In fact, the practitioner has at his disposal a wide technical range based on the use of natural weapons of the human body : feet, hands, knee, etc. Furthermore, it is considered as an extremely effective defense technique , so much so that it has been introduced into the armed forces and police forces of the whole world.

Finally, this discipline had to “fight” a lot to have a place of honor in sport because it will make its first appearance only in the Tokyo Olympic Games in 2020 .

Karate is a heritage , a culture, a way of life that is transmitted from one generation to another. Its strength is to be a concept of life: the way of the empty hand.

Karate: what it is

It is a combat sport practiced with bare hands, as its etymology clearly expresses.

Karate is a Japanese term consisting of 2 characters: kara, which means empty, and you which means hand: empty hand, or discipline that is practiced without weapons.

In addition, it is a Japanese martial art that combines different defensive and offensive fighting techniques . In fact, it opposes 2 challengers who have the intent to attack or control the opponent.

The karate is based on muscle strengthening and effectiveness of a body search (power, flexibility, agility, etc.) And thus can be considered as a complete martial art. However, the further you go into practice, the more you develop the intelligence, wisdom and control that will then prevail over physical abilities. In fact, the more you practice and consolidate the mental aspect .

This discipline allows you to concentrate your energies and transform aggression into controlled combativity that you also need in life.

The main goal of the practice is not to win but to practice assiduously to shape and shape the character.

“To remain humble when I win and persevering when I lose”: this is the philosophy of Budo (traditional Japanese art).

Sports Karate

In sports Karate, fighting techniques are allowed with all the limbs (fists, kicks, elbows, knees, etc.). They are called “atemi waza” and include techniques of:

  • projection
  • levers
  • strangulation
  • hits to vital points.

Obviously these techniques are used only in an advanced phase of the study of karate.



The kata (form) is a sequence of techniques performed by a karateka who faces an imaginary opponent. There are 2 types of competitions in kata: individual and team. In martial arts, kata represents the forms of combat played with one or more imaginary opponents. It is rigorously coded.

  • embusen: imaginary axis
  • technique (preparation, precision, positions)
  • energy (kime, explosiveness, kiaï)
  • rhythm
  • chakugan (concentration, vigilance).


2 opponents face each other on a tatami , each is equipped with protections and has a red or blue belt to be easily differentiated from both the public and the referee.

The race regulations allow for slight abdominal contact, but no face contact with punches and kicks. It is possible to defend yourself with parades and dodges.

Benefits of Karate

Benefits of karate


Psychological benefits

The importance of the moral code of karate and of martial arts values ​​accompanies the child in the recognition of authority. In fact, in karate, the master represents the discipline and the child is induced to adapt his behavior by following some rules. Not only that, karate teaches how to manage emotions and anger , thanks to precise rules and to acquire a “philosophy” that tends to combine body and spirit, physicality and moral values.

Sensei emphasizes the work of psychomotor with fun but repetitive exercises to encourage concentration and make every child participate.

Physical benefits

From a physical point of view, karate:

strengthens the bone, joint and muscle structure
improves and refines coordination
teaches diaphragmatic breathing
over time, it develops an extraordinary promptness of reaction and a high degree of attention and concentration.
Hence, children who practice this discipline benefit greatly. In fact, this discipline is able to develop both motor and cognitive skills, leading the student to develop full awareness of his own body even when he is on the move.

In addition, it is a physical combat and defense activity that helps the child develop:

  • cerebral lateralization
  • elasticity
  • equilibrium
  • speed
  • orientation in space
  • respect for others
  • strictness
  • self-confidence
  • discipline.

Karate to fight disease

Karate to fight disease

At the Bambin Gesù pediatric hospital in Rome , they opened karate lessons to children suffering from cancer and other chronic diseases to teach them how to better manage disease and pain. Indeed, karate gives strength, courage and serenity.

Physical and psychological benefits for all ages

Karate is good for children but also for adults, the elderly, boys and girls , the strong and the weak precisely because this discipline is not only a sport but an art that trains mind and spirit .

The goal of karate is not so much in winning the fight but in achieving a synthesis: technical perfection and inner balance.

It is good for muscles and joints

From adolescence onwards, karate exercises allow you to build an excellent muscle base . In addition, they make the different muscle groups work and thus strengthen the joints. Furthermore, muscular work is important because it takes advantage of both isometric work (position) and plyometric work (movements).

It is good for the heart

In practice, karateka benefits the cardiovascular system through endurance work . Furthermore, many phases inherent in the practice of kata and kumite are explosive and for this reason they increase the ability of the heart to manage important short-term efforts (anaerobic work).

In addition, karate reduces the risk of diabetes 2 because karateka burns fat .

Improve coordination

In children, karate improves spatio-temporal orientation , such as knowing how to distinguish left from right. To this lateralization, there is also the verticality, which the children gradually become aware of (arms-legs). Finally for all, the search for precision in gestures improves motor coordination such as, for example, in the attack on the leg forward and arm behind.

In kumite, students of all ages improve the perception of danger, i.e. the distance from which you can be attacked and the distance useful for attacking.

In older people , the practice of karate improves the perception of space thanks to the work on lateralization, the center of gravity and balance, reducing the risk of falls.

Improve self-esteem and self-confidence

Constant practice improves the energy capacity that consolidates the motivations . This results in greater awareness and self-control, thus overcoming, at best, the fear of getting hurt or hurting yourself.

In addition, the practice helps you fight irrational fears and makes you independent in stress management. In fact, the more tense you are, the more difficult it will be to sequence or fight. Karate teaches you to relax.

Develop respiratory qualities

In kata, breathing is essential . It accompanies the movements and, for example if the exercise is slow, you must perform a long and deep inhalation. In fact, training favors the expulsion of CO2 . On the other hand, if done wrong, karateka can suffer from cramps.

The history of karate and its ancient art

It was born on the island of Okinawa, in southern Japan, where an indigenous form of combat was always practiced, a sort of secret “martial art” that was transmitted by the nobles from generation to generation: the Okinawa-te.

Certain information on the history of karate, beyond the legends and popular beliefs, only occurs from the 1600s , when the socio-political conditions of the Okinawan nobles changed profoundly. They were impoverished and for this they were forced to devote themselves to commerce and crafts. The result of this rapprochement between social classes was the dispersion of the ancient martial art, which was handed down, because it survived, to a very limited circle of elect belonging to the lower class. L ‘Okinawa-te became the preserve of many : were laid the foundations of modern karate .

modern karate

At the birth of the modern karate also they contributed to the Chinese martial arts . Japanese travelers who went to China tried to learn the local martial arts, based above all on a profound philosophy and a particular conception of the human body . Given the complexity of these techniques, it is possible that the Japanese gave a personal interpretation , contaminating their original art, that of Okinawa-te and creating a discipline that slowly found canonical forms and codes.

Sokon Matsumura and Gichin Funakoshi

The founder of what was, in fact, the first Okinawa school of art was Sokon Matsumura . He taught the rudiments of the island’s indigenous art, the art of the sword and the practice of Chinese martial arts .

Much later, in 1922, Master Gichin Funakoshi performed in Tokyo, thus exporting martial art outside the island of Okinawa . Immediately after his pupil, Anko Itosu, he had the intuition to insert Karate in schools , thus giving way to the spread of this art, ready to be accepted also in western countries.

Certainly the karate practiced today is far from the original spirit of its founders even if the aspect that reconciles mind and body, psyche and physical remains fundamental.

Karate principles

Karate practice includes all shades of life because it is a rule of life. Master Gichin Funakoshi declared it in 1956 but still remains valid because the study of karate lasts a lifetime.

The student tirelessly repeats the same techniques to reach a perfection that probably will never reach.

SHIN GI TAI means spirit, technique and body.

These 3 aspects must be developed in harmony. If the physical results are felt after a few months of practice, it is more complicated for those of the mind.

First, you know a way to keep fit physically and then open your heart and mind to get rid of the prejudices of everyday life.

In karate it is important to first outdo yourself and then over others.

That is, today you are better than yesterday but tomorrow you will be even better and this applies to everything you do . In fact, a Samurai spent his life perfecting himself and it was an endless process.

He who has learned not to give up during the fights and has managed to build himself an extraordinary mental force, will not give up to face the tests of everyday life. So you will better manage the difficulties both on the tatami and in life . In fact, karate helps you always feel up to it.

Etiquette of karate

Dojo means “place of life”

To sit in the dojo, there are 2 positions to adopt.

  • The first is the position in seiza (kneeling).
  • The second is the anza position (sitting cross-legged).

These 2 positions are allowed during demonstrations , explanations or rest periods. Instead, it is forbidden to lie on the ground or sit with your legs stretched out because these positions give the feeling of neglect . In fact, a karateka must always be attentive and respectful of the dojo.

Clothing should never be scruffy . It is important to fix the Karategi (uniform) occasionally during training and it is mandatory to do it before each greeting.

In addition, the belt knot must be done correctly.

For hygiene reasons, walking on the tatami with shoes is prohibited . Zoori, typical Japanese slippers, must always be ordered outside the tatami.


The 9 virtues of Bushido

It means the “way of the warrior”.

It is a code of honor and ethics that manages all martial arts.

The duty of every practitioner, whether student or teacher, is to believe and interpret these principles to be a model for others and to convey interest in martial arts but also the rules of “good conduct”. In fact, those who practice martial arts must be an ambassador of the discipline .

Honor: Meiyo

It is the essential virtue. Nobody can think of being Budoka (warriors in the noble sense) unless he has exemplary conduct . From the sense of honor, all other virtues derive.

Loyalty: Chujitsu

There is no honor without loyalty and loyalty to some ideals and those who share them. Furthermore, faithfulness requires sincerity in words and deeds.

Sincerity: Seijitsu ou Makoto

Lying or misunderstanding generates suspicion that is the source of all divergences.

In karate-do, the greeting is the expression of this sincerity , it is the sign of the one who does not disguise his feelings or thoughts but knows how to be authentic.

Courage: Yuuki ou Yuukan

The strength of mind needed to challenge danger and suffering is called courage . And it is precisely the courage that drives you to be respected in all circumstances, what makes you right and that helps you, despite your fears, to face the tests.

Goodness and goodwill: Shinsetsu

Goodness and benevolence are signs of courage that denote great humanity. They urge you to help each other and to be attentive to others and to life.

Humility: ken

Goodness and humility cannot be expressed sincerely without balance. Being humble, devoid of protagonism and vanity, is the only way to be balanced .

Righteousness: Tadashi ou Sei

Loyalty, honesty and sincerity are the pillars of righteousness . They also help you make a reasonable decision with conviction.

Respect: Sooncho

Righteousness generates respect for others : good education is the expression of respect due to the other, whatever his qualities, weaknesses or social position are. Knowing how to treat others with respect is the first task of a Budoka because it helps him avoid problems and conflicts.

Self-control: Seigyo

Self-control is the essential quality of a black belt . In fact, it represents the ability to control one’s feelings, drives, instincts. It is one of the main objectives of karate-do because it affects the incisiveness.

The Twenty Principles

Master Gichin Funakoshi, who founded the Shotokan, exposed the Twenty Principles of Karate which contain, in full, the basic concepts of this art that combines skill, humility and patience, both internal and external . According to Funakoshi, compliance with these rules leads karateka to improve physically and spiritually.

It was Master Funakoshi who wrote:

  1. Karate begins and ends with the salute
  2. it never attacks first
  3. karate is righteousness, gratitude, pursuing the path of justice
  4. it is first of all to understand oneself and then others
  5. the spirit comes first; the technique is the ultimate goal
  6. loyalty and spontaneity; always be ready to clear your mind
  7. it teaches you that adversity affects us when we give up
  8. you don’t just live in the dojo
  9. Karate is for life
  10. the spirit must inspire all our actions
  11. it must be kept alive with the fire of the soul; it is like hot water, it needs constant heat or cold water will return
  12. the important thing is not to win, but the idea of ​​not losing
  13. victory lies in your ability to distinguish vulnerable points from invulnerable ones
  14. concentration and relaxation must find a place at the right time; move and indulge your opponent
  15. hands and feet like swords
  16. to think that the whole world can be your opponent
  17. the guard for beginners, the natural position for experts
  18. kata is perfection of style, its application is something else
  19. like the bow, the practitioner must use contraction, expansion, speed and similarly in harmony, relaxation, concentration, slowness
  20. make the spirit stretch to the highest level.

Styles of the World Karate Federation (WKF), recognized by the International Olympic Committe

Shotokan (Karate-Do) . Founded by Master Gichin Funakoshi who considered karate as an internal discipline . He was taken as an example by various schools, also undergoing different variations. It is still the most practiced style today . It is characterized by low, stable and strong positions (one style more static than the others). It includes competitions for both Kata and Kumite.

Shitō-ryū , founded by master Kenwa Mabuni in 1931. He moved to Osaka in 1929 where he opened his own gym to teach his interpretation of Karate-Do. The name Shitō-ryū is nothing but the set of initials of its most important masters. It is the style that provides the greatest number of Kata .

Goju-Ryu : it is the oldest style of all, the one still practiced in Okinawa, where it originated. Goju-Ryu in Japanese means “hard-soft style “, or “school (ryū) of hardness (Gō) and compliance (jū)”. It therefore alternates between hard and softer techniques . The first Master was Kanrio Higahonna who lived for a very long time in China.

Wado-ryu : it is a modern style that combines Okinawa karate with a new element, Kumite. It means ” The school of the Way of Peace “. The positions are very high and soft , the distance between the medium-short opponents and the style gives great importance to the fluidity of body movements and speed.

The Shotokan style in the world

In the sixties, the exponents of the Japan Karate Association decided to export Karate also to the West. To pursue this goal, they sent Masters to Europe and the United States, true pioneers of international karate . The diffusion of this discipline was unstoppable, also helped by stages, competitions and seminars. Before long, millions of people around the world practiced Shotokan karate .

Work out

Karate training involves 3 basic phases:


The kihon is learning the basic techniques and motor patterns that with practice become more and more composite and complex.

KI = roots and HON = base

This basic workout is composed of:

  • parades
  • attacks
  • against attacks.

On the contrary of Kata, Kihon is not codified and can be practiced in different ways:

  • Isolated movement.
  • Dynamic and more complex sequences.

This practice helps the beginner to learn and acquire the basic techniques . In fact, performing the basic techniques relentlessly ensures the acquisition of complete gestural mechanics.

Kata (form)

Kata is a fight with imaginary opponents during which compositions and combinations of techniques (forms) are performed that require maximum precision of execution. The key elements are:

  • technique
  • short and isometric muscle contraction
  • power
  • expressiveness
  • rhythm.

For example, in Shotokan karate, the movements must be soft and deep . Movements in kata can also be applied with a real opponent during exercises called bunkai .


Kumite is the most used form of combat in karate . It is based on foot-punch techniques. Learning is integrated into an evolutionary planning suitable for all levels. The priority is to be able to perform the different techniques with control and following precise rules.

Free combat is achieved only when the black belt has been obtained, precisely because this requires perfect knowledge of the techniques, physical, mental preparation and absolute control of the blows to avoid accidents.

The techniques used are levers and projections. The hit does not aim to knock out the opponent but to express the potential .

Therefore, the techniques must always be performed with complete control.

How to practice karate: Karate-gi and belt

To practice Karate, you must have karate-gi , consisting of a jacket whose flaps overlap (uwagi), and white cotton pants (zubon).

The colored belt (obi) is worn over the jacket: each color corresponds to a level of knowledge acquired . The color of the belt changes only by passing the appropriate exams.

The colors of the belt

colour of karate belts

The belt passage

In order to have the belt of a color indicating a higher level of skill , an examination must be carried out in front of a commission to demonstrate the adequate competence acquired . Depending on the school you attend, the demonstration may include performing forms (kata), self defense and fighting (kumite) . The exam for the black belt can also include a written test .

Karate technique

The technique consists of:

  • parades
  • punches
  • kicks
  • shots.

The positions

Positions are the basis for learning the technique . There are at least twenty of them that respond to the diversity of situations that a karateka can encounter. Among the various styles of karate, there are variations for the same position.

The fighting positions are, for each situation, the best compromise between stability and mobility . Stability is essential, both in attack and defense, to maintain balance and energy transmission. Low postures , such as that of the rider, are important for continuing techniques , reacting or standing still in front of the opponent.

Positions: some examples

1 -HEISOKU DACHI, standing, legs together.

Heisoku dachi is a waiting position that is adopted to make some greetings. The weight of the body must be spread over both feet.

2 – TSURU ACHI DACHI (sagi ashi dachi) Standing on one leg.

It is a position of preparation for a leg technique . It cannot be maintained for long because it is an unstable and vulnerable position .

3 – NEKO ACHI DACHI position of the cat.

It is a defensive or waiting posture that facilitates fast movement. The back leg is bent and bears almost all the weight .


The combat is a dynamic phase , during which the fighter is never static. Changing of the guard, repositioning in front of the opponent, dodging, are moments of transition both in the supports and in the position changes. Consequently, they are moments of relative vulnerability.

Then the displacements are studied in order to maintain balance . Each shift has its own characteristics but there are common fundamental principles:

  • maintain balance, keeping the center of gravity at a constant horizontal level
  • keep bust straight and abdominal band solid
  • the whole body performs the movement
  • the impulse starts from the belly (Hara) and not from the torso or legs
  • displacement of feet at ground level.

Examples of displacements

1 – TSUGI ASHI pas chassé or slipped step.

It is undoubtedly the most used form of movement in the race because it facilitates fast and medium-amplitude movements without changing the guard. It is used to adapt your positioning in front of the opponent and then attack or dodge.


The back foot moves forward. The move causes a change of guard . This shift allows powerful and large movements.

3 – HIKI ASHI: Step backwards.

It is a normal step to go back .

The legs remain slightly flexed during the move.

Defense techniques

Firstly, karate is an art of defense . This spirit is found in kata which all begin with a defense technique.

In martial arts, the concept of defense is very broad and it is sometimes difficult to distinguish it from attack. In fact, a parade has the double function:

  • parry the attack
  • prepare the counter attack.

In fact, at an advanced level parades and attacks are confused.

In karate, there are:

  • Go No Sen: block and counterattack
  • Sen No Sen: action on intention.

The defense is therefore very complex and is declined in a multitude of variations by combining techniques of the legs or arms, displacements and parades.

Defense techniques: some examples

1 – JUJI UKE (kosa uke): parade with X-shaped arms (KOSA UKE).

It is a double and very strong defense made with the 2 arms crossed at the level of the wrists to block a kick.

2 – TEÏSHO UKE: defense with the palm of the hand.

The outside of the palm is used to deflect attacks . It is a technique that requires great precision.

3 – UKE SHUTO: hand cut defense.

Locking with the open hand carried out from the inside to the outside with the external cut of the hand. Shuto Uke is used against strikes .

Attack with arms

The Atemi techniques (punches and kicks) are intended to put the attacker out of action . the basic movements are few but can be declined in a multitude of variations by combining displacements and attacks.

Among the attacks on the upper part, we distinguish the “tsuki”, direct punches, and the “uchi”, indirect blows.

Examples of attack

1 – USHIRO ENPI UCHI: attack with the elbow back.

It is used during close combat . The Ushiro (back) form also helps to get rid of a backward grip.

2 – URA TSUKI: palm fist turned upwards.

Used in close combat when the amplitude is sufficient to rotate the fist and stretch the arm.

3 – OÏ TSUKI punch with step (Jun tsuki).

It is a direct punch that is made during a step . The arm extends forcefully when the foot touches the ground.


Lower limb techniques have the double advantage of power and stretch.

However, the balance is precarious because, football, is carried on one foot or nobody, in case of jumps. So, during learning, this limitation must be taken into account. In any case, you can apply some principles such as:

Lower limb techniques have the double advantage of power and stretch.

However, the balance is precarious because, football, is carried on one foot or nobody, in case of jumps. So, during learning, this limitation must be taken into account. In any case, you can apply some principles such as:

  • keep the supporting leg slightly flexed
  • heel on the ground
  • keep your upper body straight.

Each technique offers a variety of alternatives:

the kicks can be made with the leg behind or forward leg . The former is more powerful while the latter is faster.

There are 2 ways to hit:

  • Kekomi: direct football
  • Keage: football that follows an ascending trajectory.

The choice of alternative depends above all on the position and commitment of the fighters .

Some examples

1 – MAE GERI: frontal blow.

Powerful and large amplitude kick to use to hit an opponent in front of you.

2 – USHIRO GERI kick back.

It is a direct kick intended for the opponent who is behind you or who has voluntarily turned his back.

3 – YOKO GERI side kick.

Very powerful stock , made in lateral extension.

Sports Karate

Sports Karate involves practicing all styles of karate, exercised however not so much for their philosophical and martial vocation, as for their competitive aspect, aimed at competition.

Sports karate has a federation of reference, the FIJLKAM (Italian Judo Fight Karate Martial Arts Federation) which organizes competitions based on the age of the participants and the objectives.

Age classes in karate

In sports karate, athletes are divided into age groups . We therefore have the following categories (updated January 1, 2019):

  • Children A: born in 2014/15
  • Children B: born in 2012/13
  • Children: born in 2010/11
  • Boys: born in 2008/09
  • Debutants: born in 2006/07
  • Cadets: born in 2005/04
  • Juniors: born in 2003/02
  • Seniores: born from 1982/2001
  • Master: born from 1953/1981

The Master category, in turn, is divided into further categories (A, B, C, D, E, F).

We become competitive athletes starting from the Esordienti class up to the Seniores class .

Sports Karate in the world

Also at the international level, the year of birth counts in sports karate. The categories that can participate in international competitions are 3:

  • Seniors: from the day of completion of the 18th year for kumite and 16th year in kata.
  • Juniors: from the 16th birthday to the day before the 18th birthday.
  • Cadets: from the day of the 14th year to the day before the 16th year.

kumite in sports karate

The kumite practiced in competitive competitions is subject to precise rules. For this there are weight categories:

Duration of the fight

The FIJLKAM expects that the duration of the fights will also change based on age and category of belonging:

  • beginners: it lasts 1 minute and 30 seconds
  • cadets and junores: lasts 2 minutes
  • male and female seniors: lasts 3 minutes.

The victory is decreed when at the end of the time one is in advantage or, before the end of the time, when there is a difference on the opponent of at least 8 points difference (for example 9 to 1).

Recommendations and contraindications

Karate is a complete sport and has many advantages and benefits for the mind and health. However, its contraindications are those of all dynamic sports . It is not recommended for:

  • pregnant women
  • who has cardiovascular and respiratory problems.

In any case, before practicing, ask your doctor for advice.

Finally, you need to know that karateka can be exposed to accidental blows :

  • nose
  • eye
  • lip
  • joints
  • bandy
  • fractures.

In collaboration with Masters of Judo, 7th Dan and sports journalists specialized in Martial Arts Judo

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